In 2006, 16-year-old Vince Damiani of Turnersville, N.J., was already working more than most teenagers — and even most adults.
In addition to attending high school full-time, Damiani worked 30 hours a week as adoption coordinator at the Camden County Animal Shelter, served as president of the organization’s volunteer committee, and stayed late many nights searching for foster homes for cats and dogs on death row.
But the busy teen still felt like he wasnt doing enough for the animals.
Then one day in 2008, an animal control officer brought in a portly cat that had been roaming the streets in nearby Voorhees Township. Vince and his mother fell for the cat, who the shelter had named Princess Chunk, and applied to adopt her.
When the Damianis got the cat home, they found out that Princess Chunk was really Prince Chunk. And within days, Prince Chunk was capturing national headlines for his gigantic size: the cat weighed a whopping 46 pounds.
A few days later, the media discovered why the cat had been abandoned: his previous owner’s home had been foreclosed and she couldnt afford to keep him.
And interest in the story escalated into a “perfect storm” of publicity.
Within a weeks time, Prince Chunk had appeared on most of the major TV networks.
Once things settled down for the portly feline and his new family and Vince had some time to think, he had an “aha!” moment.
Prince Chunk was wandering the streets because his former owner had faced financial hard times, he thought. And many of the other pets that ended up at the shelter were there because their owners were struggling financially and could no longer afford to take care of their beloved animal companions.
Damiani decided to start a nonprofit organization that would help people who were going through hard times by providing them with free pet food and help with veterinary bills. Thus the Prince Chunk Foundation was born.
“The goal of the foundation is to help people keep their pets so they dont have to bring them to the shelter,” he said.
Since its incorporation in June 2010, the foundation has given almost $8,000 in pet food and veterinary care to people in need. Although the Prince Chunk Foundation has thus far accepted applications only from residents of New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and California, Vince plans to expand the foundation’s services nationwide in 2012.
“I always wanted to do more to help people and animals, and once I realized what Prince Chunk represented, the decision was easy,” he said. “After all, Prince Chunk is a public figure who a lot of people know and the media loves. What better way to get the message across and also help people to keep the pets they love?”